Real Life Wrenching: Lacing Spokes and Truing a Wheel

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Lankford
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Spokes and a hub, ready to be laced to the rim.

I am not a mechanic, nor am I a naturally technical person. Rebuilding a motorcycle from a pile of parts isn’t something I ever thought I’d do, but despite my lack of experience and mechanical know-how I have committed myself to the job. My hope is that my journey will inspire other newbies to take it on. For you experienced gear-heads out there who have done this many times, maybe this column will spark memories of your first build or even encourage you to take on something else you wouldn’t have otherwise thought you could do.  Or, in this case, perhaps try lacing your own spokes if you haven’t before.

Apparently, lacing and truing spokes is a right of passage in the wrenching world.  Despite the furrowed brows I get when I tell people I’m doing this myself, I’m finding it more a matter of patience than know-how.  I have two old wheels to copy the pattern from, but a little logic goes a long way in figuring out what the pattern should be. My Bonneville has cone-shaped hubs, so the short spokes attach the wider side of the hub to the rim, with the longer ones on the side with the smaller circumferance. For each length there are two types with either a more obtuse end or shorter, flatter end opposite the thread. The greater angle is for those spokes that need to wrap over the hub and bottom spoke layer to reach the rim effectively. You’re most likely to have an old wheel to rebuild, so if anything, take pictures of the pattern before dissambly and simply recreate it. This step is surprisingly easy to do, but for more technical details on the process, check out this great how-to on lacing and truing wheels.

All laced up and in the process of truing.

Spokes laced and tightened as evenly possible, I’m in the middle of truing the wheels. It’s essential that the wheel is secure on a truing stand so you know the wobble is coming from the wheel, and not affected by its rotation on the stand. At first, I had a severe wobble and obvious difference in the vertical spin, but I’ve managed to get the wheel spinning pretty close to true.  I still have a ways to go, but every time I sit down to work on this, I get closer and closer. Asking around for an easy way to apprach truing a wheel, it seems there is none. It comes back down to patience, concentration and regular breaks in times of frustration. My preference is to do this while no one is around with some good music to zen out to, and I’m actually finding the process somewhat enjoyable and meditative.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to take a tour of Blastolene, Michael Leeds’ garage, who makes some of the most creative and over the top hot rods and motorcycle art pieces you’ll ever see. In a way, he views his creations as super human prosthetics.  I told him about my project and that I was in process of spoking my wheels, and after our discussion, I’m really glad I chose to do this myself. His advice was to not rush to the finish line. Someday I will get to ride this bike, but he recommended enjoy the process while I have the opportunity to experience it. Every spoke I turn and part I have my hands on will give me a greater connection to the motorcycle once it’s complete, and ultimately, truly make it an extension of my own body. It’s really great advice, and I’m sure many of you can attest to this. I’m very much looking forward to experiencing it for myself, but in the meantime, I’m taking my time, not skipping corners and enjoying every last minute of it.

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